To round out the Texas Republican Party's make-an-ass-of-yourself week, Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst has decided that a play performed in a classroom that features a gay Jesus is unacceptable. Yes, Texans, that's right. Apparently, you may not perform works of theater in a private setting if the subject matter is offensive to the Lieutenant Governor.
Here's what happened. A Tarleton College student chose to direct Corpus Christi as part of an advanced directing workshop. The play, by award-winning playwright Terrence McNally, revolves around modern-day gay Jesus living in modern-day Texas, who at one point performs a wedding for two gay disciples.
Dewhurst found out about it, and man is he pissed! How dare these students express themselves in an educational setting if it threatens his narrow-mindedness? The Dallas Morning News has the money-quote, emphasis mine:
Says Dewhurst in a statement: “Every citizen is entitled to the freedom of speech, but no one should have the right to use government funds or institutions to portray acts that are morally reprehensible to the vast majority of Americans.“
Thankfully Dewhurst is totally wrong: most Americans are not as deeply homophobic and bigoted as he is. From recent public opinion polling:
|CNN Poll, February 2010|
|“Do you favor or oppose permitting homosexuals to serve in the military?”|
“Do you personally think that homosexual relationships between consenting adults is morally wrong, or not a moral issue?”
|Morally Wrong||Not A Moral Issue||Unsure|
These numbers aren't great–“Oppose” and “Immoral” need to be much, much lower–but we're slowly bending society towards increased tolerance and acceptance. From the Gallup Pollsters:
There has been a general trend toward greater acceptance of gay marriage over the years. There were times in the mid 1990s when two-thirds of Americans said “no.” Despite this trend, this year's numbers are actually a little more conservative than the previous year.
And besides–don't like a play, Lieutenant Governor? Then don't go see it. Wait, it's not being performed publicly? Only in a private classroom setting? Then don't enroll in advanced directing at Tarleton College, don't attend class regularly, and don't engage with the work of your peers. (Side note: Is this or is this not similar to his performance as Lt. Gov. during the past session? Discuss.)
The President of Tartleton College, F. Dominic Dottavio, while no paradigm of acceptance and tolerance himself, at least recognizes the First Amendment issue at hand. From the DMN, emphasis mine:
[Dottavio] made no effort to halt the production, because to do so would violate the principle of free expression.
“Like every citizen of the country, the student who chose to direct excerpts from the play enjoys his right to free speech,” wrote President F. Dominic Dottavio in a letter published today on the Tarleton State University Web site.
“This right is protected by law even if the speech is offensive to others.”
How embarrassing for Texans that our Lieutenant Governor wants to actively stifle speech he finds threatening to his narrow-mindedness. How shameful that our most powerful elected statewide official behaves in this manner. He reflects poorly on all Texans, the bulk of whom are vastly more tolerant and accepting than he is.
Further shame: the award-winning McNally is a native of Corpus Christi, and has won four Tony Awards, two Guggenheim Fellowships, a Rockefeller Grant, the Lucille Lortel Award, the Hull-Warriner Award, and a citation from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Yet rather than praise our native son, Dewhurst wants to condemn him.
The play in question, Corpus Christi, has always been a lightning-rod for conservative bigotry. From the Wikipedia, emphasis mine:
In 1997, McNally stirred up a storm of controversy with Corpus Christi, a modern day retelling of the story of Jesus' birth, ministry, and death in which both he and his disciples are portrayed as homosexual. In fact, the play was initially cancelled because of death threats from extremist religious groups against the board members of the Manhattan Theatre Club which was to produce the play. However, several other playwrights such as Tony Kushner threatened to withdraw their plays if Corpus Christi was not produced, and the board finally relented. When the play opened, the theatre was besieged by almost 2000 protesters, furious at what they considered blasphemy.
In all of this, it is the student who directed the play who has perhaps come across as the most — dare I say, “Christ-like.”
“I am both a Christian and gay,” [John] Otte said in a video interview. “This play deals with that subject matter, I believe in a tasteful way. … I don't believe in a God who hates me for who I am.”
He added, “Never did I choose this play to attack Christians. I am one.”
He said he disagreed with the widely held view among Stephenville clergy and others that McNally's play is blasphemy. “I personally don't believe that,: Otte said. “I respect those people's feelings that do believe that. I respect your religions.”
It is unfortunate that this same level of respect and tolerance cannot be practiced by our Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst. It is shameful that he would condemn this act of self-expression because it threatens his own homophobic beliefs. Finally, it is embarrassing for Texas that our statewide “leadership” cares more about divisive, hate-filled rhetoric than praising the best of our state and celebrating our diversity.
Texas can and must do better.